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Halifax supervisors tee up school borrowing of $135 million, employee pay raises

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School Board agrees to budget reduced by $5 mil / May 05, 2010
The Mecklenburg County School Board on Thursday adopted a $43.5 million budget for the coming school year, almost $5.3 million leaner than the current one.

Amendments passed with the budget will change how some of the money is spent, but are not expected to affect the bottom line.

The amendments call for:

n Hiring a finance director for about $65-$77,000, a change requested by Dr. James Thornton, who will take over as superintendent when the new budget year begins July 1.

n Finding money in the purchased administrative services portion of the budget to pay the new finance director.

n Putting a cap on employee health insurance payments.

The bulk of the money to pay a finance director is expected to come by cutting the amount budgeted for legal fees and consulting fees. Since the budget was drafted prior to the hiring of a superintendent, the board had bumped up the amount for purchased services/administration from $53,323 in the current year to a proposed $87,723.

The cap on health insurance reflects the fact that the board does not yet know how much the insurance will cost. Anthem, the current vendor, had proposed an 8 percent rate hike for the coming year. The school division currently is receiving proposals from other vendors.

A proposal to offer early retirement to employees, previously rejected because consultant Dr. James Blevins determined that it would not help trim 2010-11 expenditures, may be resurrected if it can be paid for with funds set aside in previous years for capital improvements. The Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors would have to approve moving the money.

The board authorized acting superintendent Carole Nelson to request a one-time transfer of no more than $360,000 to offer a lump-sum early retirement incentive to employees.

When asked by trustee Sandra Tanner for his “best guess” on how the division’s finances would look at the end of the current fiscal year, Blevins said the division has overspent in some categories but is OK overall. He said money would have to be moved from transportation and maintenance to instruction.

“Fuel is up a little, but I think with the cuts you implemented in January and February you’re not going to overspend the budget,” he said.

Following the meeting, Thornton said the new finance director would receive a salary in the $65,000-$77,000 range.

“You have a $43 million budget, the size of a large corporation,” he said. “To not have a director of finance to oversee that budget makes no sense. I don’t know how any corporation of that size could run without a finance director.”

He promised to be “very picky” in selecting a CFO, not rushing just to fill the position.

School finance is a specialized field, he said. The position requires expertise and experience.

The budget is a big concern that needs to be addressed, Thornton said.

“You can’t have a vision and a plan if you don’t have your finances in order.”

Although he was hired in part for his own financial expertise and experience, Thornton sees a broader role for himself than micro management of the school division’s money.

“I want to be out in the schools, to see the kids, see the instructional programs,” he said.

Thornton said he wants to spend a year “getting to know the place” and understand the challenges facing the school division. To date he has learned that there are “some good things going on.”

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